“When our countries were at war, we were united and that’s really the message that needs to be hammered home on this one.”
Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, spoke at Bradford’s Cartwright Hall at a British Future event to explore how greater understanding of the First World War contribution from the Indian Army’s Muslim soldiers could help integration in Bradford and Britain today.
Joining her on the panel was Paul Davies from the Yorkshire Regiment, Ian Day from Bradford Council and Leeds Imam Qari Asim. The event also marked the launch of a new film in which Muslim and non-Muslim youth in Bradford explored this shared history. The sixth-formers had interviewed descendants of soldiers from modern-day India and Pakistan who fought for Britain in the First World War and learned about their contribution to the British war effort of 1914-18, before working with local rapper Blazer Boccle to produce lyrics about British identity and how it is shaped by this shared WW1 history. The film is available here.
At the event, the teenagers were asked questions by Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, about their experiences making the film and what they felt was the importance of learning about the forgotten history of the Muslim contribution to the First World War.
The panel then discussed the wider issues around shared remembrance and contemporary integration and took questions from the audience. Paul Davies explored the reasons why the history of the Indian Army’s contribution had been forgotten, but added that: “I feel like we are getting over that now, we’re starting to see that together everybody has something that they could contribute here, and as some of the young people said early on, if we understand our shared history we understand our place.” This echoes British Future’s polling results which shows that although awareness of the contribution of Indian soldiers has grown during the Centenary it still remains relatively unknown.
Ian Day talked of how a shared past could be used to create a better future. “I think it’s important that we don’t just reflect on the past, but we look at how we learn from the past and how we share our experiences and use that to find a common ground to build a stronger future.”
Imam Qari Asim spoke of the problems that Muslims face in trying to find an identity in modern Britain: “When people, especially from the far right, say ‘get out of this country’ and ‘you don’t belong here’ well some of our ancestors gave blood for this country, gave their lives for this country. That’s one side of the narrative, and the other is effectively that sometimes some of the Muslims say that we shouldn’t show loyalty to Britain, it’s an ‘us and them’ narrative. To them again we say if it was that situation then Muslims at the time would not have fought for Britain and as a result we belong here, the soil of our country has our blood in it.”
This was not the only Bradford based project raising the history of Indian soldiers. Tricia Platts, secretary of the Bradford World War One Group stood up at the event and spoke about some of the shared history between Bradford soldiers and Indian soldiers, who in 1915 served curry to the Bradfordians for the first time. She told the room: “There’s lots of it [shared history] about, we just need to uncover it, and to tell it out there. I’m hoping like you that next year, we really can share remembrance.”
The new video is part of a broader project, Unknown & Untold, which has been telling the story of Britain’s WW1 Muslim soldiers in mixed workshops around the country, from Birmingham to Belfast, Leicester to Sandhurst Royal Military Academy.